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The 80 Greatest Dylan Covers of All Time

From Hendrix, Baez, and the Byrds to Cher, Adele, and the Roots, our list of the 80 greatest covers of Bob Dylan’s songs.

Rolling Stone

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photo illustration showing Kesha, Nick Cave, Willie Nelson, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Dylan

Photographs in illustration by Bruce Fleming/AP; Yui Mok/PA Wire/AP; H. Thompson/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images; David Corio/Redferns/Getty Images; Jason DeCrow/AP

We’ve compiled our list of the 80 greatest covers of his songs — a collective gift back to him to say thank you for everything he’s given us. The list has songs recorded by his folk peers nearly 60 years ago, and others from as recently as last year. Getting down to 80 wasn’t easy. As the greatest songwriter of all time, Dylan has inspired thousands of covers of his songs by artists from every corner of music. Our picks include everyone from Hendrix, Baez, and the Byrds to Cher, Adele, and the Roots.

Dylan loved the ides of other people doing his songs, and it’s amazing how many songs here were recorded many times by other artists before the man himself ever released his own versions; often, they lived whole other lives, evolving and changing over the years, with his idea of the song as only a blueprint. And because there are so many kinds of Dylan songs, there’s a vast array of different kinds of Dylan covers: R&B singers love relaxing into the contours of “Lay Lady Lay”; country singers like his rootsy stuff; indie-rockers key into his sad side; heroic rock singers love scaling the peaks of open-ended classics — like “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” or “Like a Rolling Stone” — finding their own way to make new meanings amidst the intersecting, and often contradictory, emotions and ideas that can roil around within one Dylan song. Even weird, tossed-off or straight-up bad Dylan songs can make for great covers.

Upon reading this, true fans will immediately think of their own favorite covers that didn’t make the list. And that’s part of the fun. This story leads in a million directions. The road always ends wherever you’re at right now.

80. William Shatner, “Mr. Tambourine Man” (1968)


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Captain’s log, Stardate 1968: William Shatner creates the music equivalent of the Doomsday Machine. At the height of Star Trek, Captain Kirk recorded this bizarre spoken-word recital of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” definitely taking a trip upon his own magic swirling ship. He declaims the lyrics in his tormented style, as if feeling all the pain of the Horta, over psychedelic lounge-pop. By the end, he’s screaming, “Mr. Tambourine Maaaaaaan!” It’s safe to say he succeeds in his mission to boldly go where no Zimmerman has gone before. R.S.

79. Richard Hell and the Voidoids, “Going Going Gone” (1982)

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The British punks may have been keen on skewering sacred cows, but even the most nihilist of the CBGB crowd kept on eye on the past of rock and roll. On his second and final album, the punk poet the Times once called a kind of contemporary equivalent of the mid-60’s Bob Dylan” finds an unexpected outlet for his sorrow in a track from Planet Waves, which guitarists Ivan Julian and Robert Quine lacerate with a ferocity that makes Robbie Robertson sound tame. K.H.

78. The Dead Weather, “New Pony” (2009)

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Ed Rode/AP

The cryptic Street-Legal track about a horse named Lucifer gets the sludgy blues treatment from Jack White’s heavy rock supergroup. According to singer Alison Mosshart, this track, like much of the band’s debut LP Horehound, wasn’t even initially intended for release. “We were just seeing how we could attack it and what we could get from it.” she told Billboard at the time. They got maybe even more than they bargained for. K.H.

77. Jenny Lewis, “Standing in the Doorway” (2019)

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Jack Plunkett/Invision/AP

Lewis is such a great songwriter nobody would wish she’d stick to other people’s material, but on those rare occasions she covers another artist she reveal what a terrific interpreter she can be. In 2019 she released an expressively sung home recording of this Time Out of Mind standout, subtly overdubbed, on her iPhone Demos EP. Lewis’ version is on a more down-to-earth human scale than Dylan’s doomy meditation of mortality, revealing just how adaptable the original composition was. K.H.

76. The Dream Syndicate, “Blind Willie McTell” (1988)

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The psychedelic punks in the Dream Syndicate always had a tight connection with the Dylan songbook, even in their early 1980s days, when they were bashing out deep cuts like “Outlaw Blues” and “Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar” for Hollywood club kids. They were the first to release “Blind Willie McTell,” for a 1988 fanzine single , years before Dylan’s version came out. Steve Wynn’s acerbic sneer carries the song’s bitter indictment of American history. How could Dylan write a song this great for Infidels and leave it off the album? All we know for sure: nobody could play the blues like Blind Willie McTell. R.S.

75. Ministry, “Lay Lady Lay” (1996)

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Rune Hellestad/Corbis/Getty Images

It’s fair to go out on a limb and call this the least seductive “Lay Lady Lay” ever recorded. That’s an achievement that Ministry’s Al Jourgensen must be proud of. The industrial metal kingpin just had a huge breakthrough hit with his 1992 Psalm 69, and to celebrate, he set out to make the noisiest, sludgiest, most antisocial follow-up album he could, calling it Filth Pig. “Lady Lady Lady” was the hilarious climax, with Jourgensen screaming the title in a druggy haze. “His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean”? Yeah right — this version makes you look for the nearest decontamination shower. R.S.

74. Kesha, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” (2011)

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Yui Mok/PA Wire/AP

Kesha doesn’t so much perform this breakup song as she does endure it. Recorded for Amnesty International’s 76-song Dylan tribute, this spookily skeletal version establishes a raw mood even before she audibly breaks down in tears. “The emotion caught up with me and I just started weeping,” she told Rolling Stone at the time.“It seemed like a suicide note to the love of my life and to my former life. Because everything in my life has changed so much.” K.H.

73. The Roots, “Masters of War” (2007)

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Peter Klaunzer/Keystone/AP

When the Roots were booked to play a Bob Dylan tribute show at New York’s Lincoln Center in 2006, they took a page from the Leon Russell playbook and set it to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” By this point in history, it was clear to most Americans that the war in Iraq had been a horrible mistake, and it was met with roars of approval and a standing ovation. It was enough to make them add it to their setlist and at Coachella in 2007, they stretched it out to eight incredible minutes. A.G.

72. Joe Cocker, “Catfish” (1976)

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Dylan should have written more Seventies baseball songs, right? “Catfish” is an acoustic blues he cut in 1975, but left unreleased until his 1991 The Bootleg Series, a tribute to the great pitcher Catfish Hunter. Dylan turned the Carolina boy with the fastball into a folk hero a la Pretty Boy Floyd or Stagger Lee, smoking cigars and wearing alligator boots. As a Northern English bloke, Joe Cocker might not have been much of a baseball fan, but he wails it as a slow, bluesy boast. Some of us still hope we eventually get Dylan songs about Dock Ellis, Mark Fidrych, Vida Blue, and Bye Bye Balboni. R.S.

71. Sonic Youth, “I’m Not There” (2007)

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“I’m Not There” is such a mysterious Bob Dylan song that nobody even knows the complete lyrics. It was recorded during the Basement Tapes sessions, but confined to bootleg recordings until he finally allowed it to see the light of day on the soundtrack to the surreal 2007 movie of the same title. The sole available Basement Tapes version begins with Dylan mid-word and he’s so slurry in some parts that fans have spent decades arguing over what exactly he’s saying. What everyone agrees is that “I’m Not There” is a haunting work worthy of endless examination. Covering it is a very difficult task, but Sonic Youth nailed it on the I’m Not There soundtrack. Their rendition keeps all the mystery of the original intact. A.G.

70. Johnny Thunders, “Joey” (1983)

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Johnny Thunders was the ultimate NYC born-to-lose street punk, ever since he redefined feedback as the glam-trash guitar hero of the New York Dolls and the Heartbreakers. Born John Anthony Genzale in Queens, he related to Dylan’s tale of another Italian prince gone bad, Brooklyn mafioso Joey Gallo. “Joey” might be the most widely hated Dylan song of the Seventies, but Thunders claims it as a tribute from one great paisan hipster rock & roll star to another. He turns it into a Dion-worthy Fifties-style guitar/sax toast: “Joey Joey Joey, king of da street!” This is where “Like a Rolling Stone” meets L.A.M.F. — one of those rare Dylan covers that improves on the original. R.S.

69. Nanci Griffith, “Boots of Spanish Leather” (1993)

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Griffith performed this study abroad blues with Carolyn Hester at Dylan’s star-studded 30th Anniversary Concert. He liked it enough to add his own harmonica to Griffith’s studio version, released the next year, in 1993, on her signature covers record Other Voices, Other Rooms. That album included covers by everyone from Kate Wolf to John Prine to Jerry Jeff Walker. She plays “Boots of Spanish Leather” completely straight, laying bare the song’s heartbreak and agony by letting the song speak for itself. J.B.

68. The Heptones, “I Shall Be Released” (1969)

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Few artists have brightened up a Dylan recording as nicely as the Heptones did on their 1969 reggae iteration of the singer’s redemptive ballad “I Shall Be Released,” released just a year after the Band did it on Music From Big Pink. For whatever reason, the song was never included in any of the multiple album-length compilations of reggae Dylan covers, but the Jamaican trio recorded the song several times (including a 1977 version with dub master Lee “Scratch” Perry). In later years they would change the chorus to: “I see Jah light/Come shining.” J.B.

67. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “Death Is Not the End” (1996)

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After ranting about homicide for nearly an hour on his 1996 album, Murder Ballads, Nick Cave must have needed a hug, so he turned to Dylan’s uplifting Down in the Groove deep cut and made it a warm-and-fuzzy campfire singalong with some of his best friends and baddest seeds. Maintaining the easy, country-tinged vibe of the original, Cave trades verses on the recording with a cross section of his mid-Nineties dark-rock cabal and some pop-rock curveballs: PJ Harvey, the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan, Einstürzende Neubauten and the Bad Seeds’ Blixa Bargeld, Kylie Minogue, former Bad Seed Anita Lane, and the Bad Seeds’ Thomas Wylder. Other than Bargeld’s sinisterly whispered verse, it’s a sweet and sentimental palette cleanser, a refreshing after-dinner mint to follow the bloody massacre that was the rest of the album. K.G.

66. Al Kooper and Stephen Stills, “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” (1968)

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On Highway 61 Revisited, Dylan approached this assemblage of railroad and blues-song images as a lanky shuffle. This souped-up overhaul, from the Super Session album that also featured guitarist Mike Bloomfield on other tracks, replaces the clank of a railway car with the souped-up feel of a jet airliner. Kooper’s delivery is even more laconic than Dylan’s, and Stills contributes a fluid solo with a hint of twang (egged on by Kooper’s “aww, pick it, Wilson!” exclamation). Kooper later wrote that he was inspired by Dylan’s earlier, “fast-tune” arrangement of the song. D.B.

65. Fairport Convention, “Million Dollar Bash” (1969)

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Among the many playful songs Dylan wrote during his “Basement Tapes” era was his freewheeling, surrealistic tale of a party inhabited by all sorts of freaks and geeks. Fairport Convention’s cover delightfully heightens the bawdy-reverie aspect of the tune. With band members trading verses — listen close for Sandy Denny and Richard Thompson, both in Fairport at that point — “Million Dollar Bash” becomes a woozy, giddy, seemingly liquored-up sing-along. Even more so than Dylan and the Band did in their Big Pink version, Fairport make you want to join in on the party as soon as possible. D.B.

64. Dave Van Ronk, “If I Had To Do It All Over Again, I’d Do It All Over You” (1963)

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When Dylan arrived in NYC in the early 1960s, Dave Van Ronk was the king of the Greenwich Village folkies, the Mayor of MacDougal Street. Dylan idolized him from afar and studied him up close — as he recalled in Chronicles, “He was passionate and stinging, sang like a soldier of fortune and sounded like he paid the price.” Van Ronk did one of the kid’s songs on his 1963 album In The Tradition — a ribald ragtime ditty Dylan played just a couple of times onstage. The immortal hook: “If I had to do it all over again, babe, I’d do it all over you!” R.S.

63. Jeff Buckley, “Just Like a Woman” (1993)

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Dylan’s look back at a collapsed relationship has been tackled by a wide range of acts over the decades — from Richie Havens and Nina Simone to, later, Stevie Nicks and Old Crow Medicine Show. Buckley’s 1993 cover, which predates his Grace album, strips down the song musically and emotionally. In his Blonde on Blonde take, Dylan, encased in subdued folk-rock, sounded worn down and slightly dismissive of the woman with “her fog, her amphetamines and her pearls.” Here, accompanied only by his electric guitar, Buckley sings in a far more supple and consoling tone, as if he’s in as much anguish as his partner. By the end of the song, he seems on the verge of tears. The result is a rarity: a Dylan cover that sounds like an entirely different song, D.B. 

62. Freddie King, “Meet Me in the Morning” (1975)

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Dylan bent the blues to his own artistic purposes, so it was always rewarding to hear bluesmen readjust his songs back into a more traditional shape. This riff-driven Blood on the Tracks number almost calls out for a straight blues cover, and the Texan-born Chicago guitar great leapt at the invitation, performing it on the last album he released in his lifetime, Larger Than Life. Where Dylan plays it cool, King rushes into it with soulful abandon, reeling off a stylishly fierce solo, with horns busting in at just the right moments. K.H.

61. Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” (1968)

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Dylan famously loved this version of his  Another Side ballad by his mentor (and Woody Guthrie pal) Elliott. “I bequeath it to you!” he announced as he watched Elliott perform the song one night. And it’s easy to hear why, especially in this original remake from 1965. If anyone could relate to the I’m-outta-here narrator, who decides to hit the road and not be pinned down, it would surely be Elliott. (“Where I’m bound, I can’t tell” in some ways sums up Elliott’s own zigzagging travels and personal life.) Elliott sings it with equal parts tenderness and crankiness, and the craggy harmonica adds a perfect Dust Bowl touch. D.B.

60. Doug Sahm, “Wallflower” (1973)

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Doug Sahm was a legend of Tex-Mex rock & roll, from the Sir Douglas Quintet in the 1960s to the Texas Tornados in the 1990s. His first solo album, Doug Sahm and Band in 1972, had a freewheeling cast of friends including Dylan, who contributed “Wallflower,” a delightfully ragged waltz about yearning to dance with the shy gal across the room. Dylan plays guitar and sings harmony; Dr. John joins in on organ. Many years later, when Dylan’s son Jakob formed his own successful band, he called it the Wallflowers. R.S.

59. Craig Finn, “Sweetheart Like You” (2014)

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“Sweetheart Like You” is one of the man’s sharpest Eighties love songs, from the 1983 gem Infidels. (It’s become an underrated deep cut now, though it was a MTV hit at the time.) The Hold Steady’s frontman Craig Finn gets the elusive tone exactly right: It’s the ballad of two lost souls in a bar at closing time, sizing each other up. When Finn sings the title question — “What’s a sweetheart like you doing in a dump like this?” — he sounds like a philosopher on a barstool, finding a little poetry in the eyes of a stranger. The most famous line unfortunately sounds as true as ever: “Steal a little and they throw you in jail / Steal a lot and they make you king.” R.S.

58. Caetano Veloso, “Jokerman” (1992)

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Veloso’s been called Brazil’s answer to Bob Dylan, which, as such comparisons will, undersells the uniqueness of both artists. But his stature is comparable, so this take on the opaque Infidels opener, from Veloso’s live album Circulado Vivo. has the feel of one culture’s titan addressing another’s. The Brazilian legend and his band bring an elasticity to the number, which he sings in nimble English as thunderous hand percussion pounds upon a rubbery bassline, the instrumental break. K.H.

57. The Rolling Stones, “Like a Rolling Stone” (1995)

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MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JANUARY 01: (L-R) Ron Wood, Mick Jagger & Keith Richards during a performance by the Rolling Stones. (Photo by DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

Dylan took his most famous song title from the Muddy Waters blues classic “Rollin’ Stone” — the same place the Stones got their name. (As did a certain magazine.) Given their tangled histories, it made sense for the Stones to pay tribute to Dylan by covering this song. (It basically had to happen, right?) They did “Like a Rolling Stone” on their 1995 live album Stripped, with Mick Jagger wailing away on harmonica. At the end, Keith Richards says, “Thanks, Bob” — a touching salute from one timeless rock & roll pirate to another. R.S.

56. Yo La Tengo, “I Threw It All Away” (1989)

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Beloved indie-rock trio Yo La Tengo have always had impeccable taste in covers, and they’ve done many Dylan songs throughout their illustrious run, often pulling tunes from the sad, gentle side of the canon. They’re version of “I Threw It All Away,” off Nashville Skyline, appeared as the final track on their third album, President Yo La Tengo, full of sleepy Hoboken guitar prettiness and sung by Ira Kaplan with careworn late-night intimacy. For more Yo La/Dylan content, check out their arresting, slow-dissolve take on “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” or this great run through “Wallflower,” with Lucinda Williams and Janet Weiss, among many other fine offerings. J.D.

55. Roger McGuinn, “Up to Me” (1976)

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Blood on the Tracks is a perfect record and it’s hard to quibble with any decision that Dylan made on it. That said, it might have been even more perfect had Dylan included “Up to Me” on it instead of “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.” The world didn’t hear Dylan’s “Up to Me” until the release of Biograph in 1985, but his Rolling Thunder tour mate Roger McGuinn (who knew a thing or two about covering Dylan songs) tackled it on his 1976 LP Cardiff Road. It’s hard to make much sense of the lyrics, but when McGuinn sings “I’ve only got me one good shirt left and it smells of stale perfume/In fourteen months I’ve only smiled once and I didn’t do it consciously” it somehow comes together. A.G.

54. Nico, “I’ll Keep It With Mine” (1967)

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Many have recorded this song, from Judy Collins to Fairport Convention, but only Nico could put such a tragically tender spin on a simple song about friendship. She exudes the same melancholy as she does on her cover of Jackson Browne’s “These Days,” but instead of being lonely, she’s offering a helping hand. It’s certainly as far away from the imperious image she cast that same year as a singer for the Velvet Underground on songs like “Femme Fatale” and “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” A.M. 

53. Cheap Trick, “Please, Mrs. Henry” (1977)

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In 1971, four years before the song would be released on The Basement Tapes, eclectic English rockers Manfred Mann recorded a great version of “Please, Mrs. Henry,” recasting a hobbled lope about being too drunk to function as hard-driving hippie-R&B boogie. It’s the takeoff point for Cheap Trick’s demolition job live rendition, which definitely inhabits the original song’s sloshed spirit, suggesting the Replacements doing a Rolling Stones cover. Cheap Trick’s take would in turn serve as the inspiration for the equally hot riff on the song that Silkworm and Stephen Malkmus did as the Crust Brothers. J.D. 

52. The Byrds, “Spanish Harlem Incident” (1965)

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One of the most purely playful things the Byrds ever did, and a highlight from their classic debut album. “Spanish Harlem Incident” is a youthful fling, from Another Side of Bob Dylan — the tale of a fresh-faced country kid in the big city, under the spell of a mystic woman. The Byrds jangle it up, making it sound like Dylan’s version of a Brian Wilson song. Roger McGuinn sounds like he’s trying hard not to crack up in the last verse, but the humor jumps out when the boys sing, “I got to laugh halfways off my heels!” R.S.

51. Grateful Dead, “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” (4/27/85)

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The Dead always sounded great playing Dylan — that is, unless Dylan was singing with them. (When he toured with the Dead in the Eighties, not a peak live era for him, they did the maudlin gangster epic “Joey,” which was about as much fun as getting shot at Umberto’s Clam House.) “Tom Thumb’s Blues” became a fan fave for tape traders in the Eighties, with Phil Lesh on lead vocals. He plays around with the lyrics, from “I started out on Heineken but soon hit the harder stuff” to “My best friend, my drummer, won’t even tell me what it was that I dropped!” R.S.

50. Jim James & Calexico, “Goin’ to Acapulco” (2007)

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Jason DeCrow/AP

Out of all the surreal, WTF moments in Todd Haynes’ 2007 Dylan film  I’m Not There, Jim James singing this  Basement Tapes track  in Rolling Thunder-era white face is perhaps the wildest. The performance is included in one of Richard Gere’s scenes as Billy the Kid, as an open casket of a woman is propped up and the townspeople gather around to hear James and Calexico. It’s not only James’ best Dylan covers, but arguably one of his greatest vocal performances ever, as booming horns accompany his lines about visiting Rose Marie, who likes to go to big places. A.M.

49. Television, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (1978)

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Television, the original CBGBs garage punks, came up with the idea of turning “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” into a long, brooding guitar warhorse — an idea that a few other bands have tried since then. ( Cough, Guns N Roses cough.) Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd crank gunshots out of their Fender Jazzmasters, catching all the morbid outlaw angst of the story, but with an extra dose of NYC urban sleaze. They make it worthy to stand next to their original guitar jams like “Marquee Moon” and “Little Johnny Jewel.” This 1978 live version was a bootleg fave until it surfaced on Television’s posthumous live album The Blow Up. R.S.

48. Eddie Vedder, “Masters of War” (1993)

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Pearl Jam were just starting to break big when Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready were invited to perform at Bob Dylan’s 30th anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden. They were sharing the bill with heavyweights like George Harrison, Johnny Cash, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, and Tom Petty, but their haunting rendition of “Masters of War” early in the night was a clear highlight, especially since the Gulf War was a very recent memory at the time. Pearl Jam brought the song into their live show after the outbreak of the Iraq War over a decade later, but they never quite bested this first rendition. A.G.

47. Rod Stewart, “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar” (1995)

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Dylan recorded “Groom’s Still Waiting At the Alter” in 1981, a rollicking apocalyptic blues-rocker that would’ve been good enough to make it on Highway 61 Revisited but was deemed unsuitable for the last of Dylan’s Christian albums, 1981’s Shot of Love. Dylan rectified this odd decision by including the song on subsequent editions of Shot of Love, but since people weren’t exactly running out and gobbling up subsequent editions of Shot of Love, it remained an obscurity. Yet, even if it wasn’t the most likely song for Rod Stewart to record in the early Nineties, he absolutely bodyslams it, with the raw joyful spirit of his finest Seventies moments. J.D. 

46. The Crust Brothers, “Going to Acapulco” (1998)

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In December of 1997, Stephen Malkmus of Pavement and members of the indie-rock band Silkworm got together to play a show in Seattle to benefit the Washington Wilderness Coalition. The crowd was clamoring for Pavement songs. Instead, they got a killer covers set, including “Bitch,” “Tuesday’s Gone” and seven songs from The Basement Tapes. They opened with “Going to Acapulco,” turning a slow, mournful ode to beleaguered escape into a choogled-out guitar banger. When a recording of the show materialized under the title Marquee Mark, it immediately became a bootleg grail, just like The Basement Tapes had been decades earlier. J.D. 

45. Chrissie Hynde and James Walbourne, “Sweetheart Like You” (2020)

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Chrissie Hynde has said that when Bob Dylan surprised the world with the release of “Murder Most Foul” a few weeks into pandemic lockdowns in 2020, “It knocked me sideways.” It helped her realize just how much Dylan’s music has meant to her, so she and Pretenders guitarist James Walbourne set about recording eight Dylan covers to get through the year. One of the best was “Sweetheart Like You,” the easygoing Infidels single, which doubles as a pickup line and a Dylan-esque statement of sympathy for the suffering of women everywhere. Hynde sings it in her typically breathy way, enunciating the words in her distinctive way and making lines like “You could be known as the most beautiful woman/Who ever crawled across cut glass to make a deal” cut with more pathos than that of the original. K.G.

44. Lou Reed, “Foot of Pride” (1993)

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Leave it to Lou Reed to perform a super obscure 1983 studio outtake at a Bob Dylan tribute concert in front of 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden and countless more watching on television. A tiny fraction of the audience probably recognized “Foot of Pride” (which was released on the first edition of the Bootleg Series in 1991), but it’s hard to imagine that Reed cared. The lyrics (“Like the lion tears the flesh off of a man/So can a woman who passes herself off as a male”) seemed custom-made for Reed, and he made it seem like a lost classic from the Velvet Underground catalog. Dylan has never attempted the song live, so this remains the definitive concert version. A.G.

43. Rosanne Cash, “Girl From the North Country” (2009)

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Dylan’s good friend Johnny Cash famously duetted with him on this folk ballad for Nashville Skyline in 1969. Cash also included the Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan number on a list of “essential” country songs that he passed along to his daughter Rosanne, and it was one that she chose for her album drawn from those selections, The List. With a lovely fingerpicked guitar and Cash’s pristine voice, the song becomes a tribute to two great artists from a third. K.H.

42. Joan Osborne, “Man in the Long Black Coat” (1995)

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Dylan’s catalog is rife with spooky, ominous parables, and this tale of a woman who leaves her husband to run off with a shadowy stranger — and is never heard from again — is one of his eeriest. “In some kind of weird way, I thought of it as my ‘I Walk the Line,’” he wrote in Chronicles Volume One, “a song I’d always considered to be up there at the top, one of the most mysterious and revolutionary of all time.” Dylan’s version on Oh Mercy sounded, in his word, “deserted,” but Osborne’s cover slows the tempo just a bit, making the song even more haunting. Almost as if she’s singing in the voice of the vanished woman herself, Osborne sounds increasingly desperate as the song continues, while the music stays muted, never giving in to her pleas. “She’s gone, she’s gone,” Osborne ad-libs at the end, and you know she is. D.B.

41. Bettye LaVette, “It Ain’t Me Babe” (2018)

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Soul singer Betty LaVette is a peerless song reimaginer, and she puts on yet another master class in interpretation here. In Lavette’s hands, “It Ain’t Me Babe” becomes more vulnerable, bruised, dejected. The original was a highlight on Things Have Changed, her 2018 collection of Dylan covers. “When people ask me, ‘How do you make these songs your own?’ she toldRolling Stone that year. “I tell them it’s so much easier for me to sound like Bettye Lavette than it is for me to sound like Bob Dylan.” J.B.

40. Gregg Allman, “Going Going Gone” (2017)

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Urs Jaudas/Keystone/AP

Allman made his final album, 2017’s Southern Blood, as he was dying of liver cancer, creating a work similar to the swan-song LPs of David Bowie and Leonard Cohen. It’s highlighted by this powerful reading of “Going Going Gone,” a raggedly beautiful intimation of suicide from 1974’s Planet Waves. Allman turns it into an honest, graceful reckoning with his own mortality, gilded with steel guitar and a Southern-soul horn section. When he sings “I’m closing the book on pages and texts/And I don’t really care what happens next,” it’s almost too real to take. J.D.

39. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Like a Rolling Stone” (1967)

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Bruce Fleming/AP

When Jimi Hendrix stepped onstage at the Monterey Pop Festival, in the summer of 1967, he was a complete unknown in his native land. But an hour later, he was the guitar hero of all guitar heroes. Hendrix capped his triumphant Monterey homecoming gig by telling the crowd, “I’d like to bore you for about six or seven minutes…I wanna do a little thing by Bob Dylan — that’s his grandma over there,” pointing to frizzy-haired bassist Noel Redding. “A little thing called ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’” Then he turned it into a screaming electric storm, blowing the minds of an audience who’d never heard him before. R.S.

38. Leon Russell, “Masters of War” (1970)

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GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty Images

Leon Rusell’s 1970 cover of “Masters of War” is a mere one minute and 24 seconds long, and he stops it after the first verse, leaving the vast majority of it un-sung. But he made the genius decision to sing it to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” This was the height of the Vietnam War and many Americans were incredibly disillusioned by the real-life Masters of War calling the shots in that never-ending nightmare. By taking Dylan’s 1963 words and delivering them in this context, he spoke for much of his audience. And even though Dylan never spoke out against the war himself, he gave followers songs like “Masters of War” to use at their discretion. It was never used more effectively than it was here. A.G.

37. Willie Nelson & Calexico, “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)” (2007)

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Jason Decrow/AP

The soundtrack to the trippy 2007 Dylan biopic I’m Not There is packed with amazing covers of famous songs like “All Along The Watchtower,” “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” and “Maggie’s Farm,” but Willie Nelson and Calexico dug deep into his catalog for the Street Legal tune “Señor (Takes of Yankee Power).” Like many songs from that time, the lyrics make little sense, but Nelson infuses them with incredible gravitas. He has sang many duets with Dylan over the years and they even wrote the song “Heartland” together, but his voice and Dylan’s lyrics have never sounded as majestic together as they do here. A.G.

36. The Clash, “The Man In Me” (1979)

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Roger Ressmeyer/Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

The mass public didn’t come around to Bob Dylan’s New Morning deep cut “The Man In Me” until the Coen Brothers used it in their 1998 movie The Big Lebowski, but the Clash beat them to it by a good 19 years when they covered it during the London Calling sessions. As heard on the “Vanilla Tapes” taken from the London Calling Legacy Edition, they transform it into a slow reggae tune, and somehow it fits seamlessly onto the same LP as “Death or Glory” and “Lost In The Supermarket.” They never played the song live (or any Bob Dylan song for the matter) and their one-off take was never meant to be heard by the public, but it’s brilliant nonetheless. The Dude must definitely would abide. A.G.

35. Isaac Hayes, “Lay Lady Lay” (1999)

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Ron Wolfson/Getty Images

Was any Dylan song better intended for a make-over by the make-out king of R&B? In the Seventies, Hayes reveled in recasting other people’s songs into extended, sensual, orchestral vamps. For a 1999 album of Dylan covers, Hayes returned to that turf and proved he hadn’t lost any of his moves. “It’s too early to go home … Why don’t you just chill, relax,” he improvs in the intro before amplifying the sexuality of Dylan’s Nashville Skyline song. In Hayes’ rendition, “You can have your cake and eat it too” takes on an all-new meaning. D.B.

34. Susanna Hoffs & Rainy Day, “I’ll Keep It With Mine” (1984)

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Fryderyk Gabowicz/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

In 1984, years before he started Mazzy Star, the late great guitarist David Roback did an album called Rainy Day, covering 1960s faves with friends from L.A.’s neo-psychedelic “Paisley Underground” scene. It was hugely influential, turning postpunk kids on to the Byrds and the Buffalo Springfield. Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles sang two of the highlights: Dylan’s “I’ll Keep It With Mine” and the Velvets’ “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” (Dylan didn’t release his own version of “I’ll Keep It With Mine” until his 1985 Biograph box.) Most singers who attempt this tune stumble over the quizzical lyrics, but Hoffs just savors the melody with a smile in her voice — the most purely beguiling version ever heard. R.S.

33. Grateful Dead, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” ( 9/26/72)

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Jorgen Angel/Redferns

The Dead started playing their favorite Dylan tune in their early days, and never stopped. Of all their many Dylan covers, “Baby Blue” was the one they played most often, right up to the year Jerry Garcia died. There’s a fine 1981 performance on Postcards of the Hanging, but their toughest “Baby Blue” comes from their legendary Jersey City run, the night of September 26th, 1972. (The following night was released as Dick’s Picks Volume 11.) Garcia puts on the chill with his voice and guitar, as if he sees all the song’s dire prophecies coming true. R.S.

32. Siouxsie and the Banshees, “This Wheel’s on Fire ” (1987)

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Ebet Roberts/Getty Images

If anyone could translate Dylan into goth, it had to be Siouxsie. The Eighties icon rode this Basement Tapes classic from Big Pink to the Batcave. Siouxsie and the Banshees took pride in reworking Sixties classics for the black-lipstick crowd; they had a U.K . Top Ten hit with the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” one of the few goth hits about enjoying sunshine. On their 1987 album Through The Looking Glass, they covered Iggy (“The Passenger”), the Doors (“You’re Lost Little Girl”), and Dylan. Siouxsie did a trippy performance of “This Wheel’s on Fire” on Top of the Pops, vamping in her purple catsuit, doing an awesome version of the goth cobweb-gathering dance. R.S.

31. Rick Nelson & the Stone Canyon Band, “She Belongs to Me” (1969)

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

A TV star and teen heartthrob in the 1950s, Ricky Nelson had been trying to move away from his bubblegum image throughout the Sixties, signaling his new phase by dropping the “y” from his first name. By the end of the decade, he hadn’t a hit for a while, but his version of Dylan’s caustically elegiac ballad eased him back into the Top 40 with a strikingly lovely country-rock treatment in step with the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers, featuring a steel guitar player borrowed from Buck Owens’ backing band and including future Eagle Randy Meisner on bass. J.D.

30. My Chemical Romance, “Desolation Row” (2009)

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Nigel Treblin/AP

For the Watchmen soundtrack, the glam-emo band rip through a slightly truncated rendition of the sprawling Highway 61 Revisited closer in just under three minutes, transforming an apocalyptic string of imagery into a shout-along anthem, with a solo that quotes “The Star-Spangled Banner” like the Sixties are collapsing into a singularity before your ears. If you ever thought you’d figured out what Bob meant, you sure don’t anymore. In a statement to coincide with the release, My Chem frontman Gerard way thanked Dylan, “for letting us cover the song and for not getting really mad at us for hacking out some of the best lyrics ever written.” K.H.

29. PJ Harvey, “Highway 61 Revisited” (1993)

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Steve Eichner/WireImage

The noisy bedlam of Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” and its quixotic references to the road that stretches between his hometown of Duluth, Minnesota to New Orleans fit in perfectly amid the guitar chaos of PJ Harvey’s breakthrough album, 1993’s Rid of Me. But rather than record a reverent cover of one of Dylan’s most irreverent songs (mercifully, she omitted the original’s irritating slide whistle), Harvey made the tune her own with quiet, almost whispered sections, which sound a bit like a Thirties radio broadcast before they swell into a big, extraverted wave of noise. She adds falsetto harmonies to the Louie the King verse and lets her guitar rumble while wailing the word “highway” in a much more menacing way than even Dylan could have mustered. K.G.

28. Flatt & Scruggs, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” (1967)

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The grand old men of bluegrass, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, picked up a new audience with their soundtrack for the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde. But they didn’t do this song because they wanted to sound modern — they did it because the song already felt like elemental American roots music. They did a few Dylan tunes on their 1969 album Changin’ Times, but “Don’t Think Twice” is the real killer. They rev it up with Scruggs picking his banjo and Flatt on mandolin, singing with the fatalistic humor of elders who already know how it feels to spend a lifetime on that road. R.S.

27. Nancy Sinatra, “It Ain’t Me Babe” (1966)

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Central Press/Getty Images

Nancy Sinatra became a Sixties pop goddess with her 1966 Number One debut hit, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.” She loved nothing more than cutting tough guys down to size, and she stomps her leather boots all over “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” She turns the song into her own feminist kiss-off, brushing off a possessive guy and rejecting all the claims of patriarchy — she shows off what she liked to call “my Nasty Jones persona.” You can tell why Lana Del Rey is so obsessed with Nancy Sinatra — what she does to this song is an act of cultural ultraviolence. R.S.

26. Fairport Convention, “I’ll Keep It With Mine” (1969)

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Jorgen Angel/Redferns/Getty Images

Dylan demoed this lilting, generous ballad for both Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde but shelved it. “Maybe it didn’t sound like a record to me,” he later said. It’s sounded just fine to many others, from Judy Collins to Nico to Dutch indie-rockers Bettie Severt. English folk-rock greats Fairport Convention’s 1969 version has a pastorale grandeur all its own, lifted by the graceful equanimity in Sandy Denny’s astonishingly pretty vocal. You can also hear Fairport’s Richard Thompson do a heartbreaking version of the song with his wife Linda on the tour for their classic 1982 breakup album Shoot Out the Lights. J.D.

25. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, “Wanted Man” (1985)

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David Corio/Redferns/Getty Images

Nick Cave was busy being born in the Eighties, crawling from the wreckage of his band the Birthday Party and mutating into a poetic goth-punk blues shaman, dressed in black with a heart to match. He did “Wanted Man” on his 1985 album The Firstborn Is Dead, raving with over-the-top outlaw braggadocio, adding a road map’s worth of new lyrics. Dylan wrote it for Johnny Cash, who used it to open his 1969 live album at San Quentin Prison. How did Cash feel about Cave’s version? Fifteen years later, he repaid the compliment by doing Cave’s electric-chair confessional “The Mercy Seat.” R.S. 

24. Bryan Ferry, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” (1973)

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Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty Images

The Roxy Music frontman’s first solo album was a collection of covers that subversively mixed serious Sixties rock with Brill Building bubblegum and pre-rock standards, as if “Sympathy for the Devil” and “It’s My Party” were all part of the same continuum. He opened the LP throwing down the gauntlet with a gloriously frivolous remake of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” hotwriting Dylan’s protest folk masterpiece in the vein of Roxy’s art-damaged glam-rock, complete with call and response girl-group backing vocals and silly sound effects — as if Ferry was playing the hits at some sort of apocalyptic sock hop. J.D. 

23. Joan Baez, “Love Is Just a Four Letter Word” (1968)

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Reg Innell/Toronto Star/Getty Images

From its shifting narrative to its numerous metaphors, this ballad, which Dylan himself has never released, could be the subject of an entire college poetry-of-rock course. Who is the burdened woman at the beginning, who is “the father of your kid,” and what’s the connection between them and the disillusioned-romantic narrator, who realizes that “the holy kiss that’s supposed to last eternity/Blow up in smoke, it’s destiny”? Is he implying that “love” is a curse or just an ordinary term? But the straight-backed sturdiness of the melody is a perfect match for Baez, who was first heard singing a snippet of the tune in Don’t Look Back. The sitar that winds its way through her studio version is a tad cheesy. But when she lets her soprano fly for just one note in each chorus, she proves to be its ideal interpreter — perhaps because she read her and Dylan’s own relationship into it? Another mystery. D.B.

22. The Brothers and Sisters, “The Mighty Quinn” (1969)

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

A shaky concept that worked out surprisingly well, the Brothers and Sisters was a group assembled by producer Lou Adler for a one-off album of churches up Dylan covers, Dylan’s Gospel. The star of the LP is gospel-soul queen Merry Clayton, who would deliver her landmark backing vocals on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” just a few months later. She wallops her version of “All Along the Watchtower,” and struts her way through the the Mighty Quinn,” a playfully fun-loving moment on a record that was often a little heavy-handed. Her take even surpasses Manfred Mann’s hit 1968 version. J.D. 

21. Sheryl Crow, “Mississippi” (1998)

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Paul Bergen/Redferns/Getty Images

Not many artists get to release a Dylan classic before the man himself, but Sheryl Crow gets to count herself among that select group. In fact, Dylan had already recorded “Mississippi” for Time Out of Mind in 1997, but he was unhappy with the production, so he offered it to Crow, who cut a footloose version of it would appear on The Globe Sessions (and influence the Dixie Chicks, who’d regularly perform a version patterned on hers). By the time Dylan released her version on “Love and Theft,” “Mississippi” was practically an oldie. K.H.

20. Adele, “Make You Feel My Love” (2008)

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Sandro Campardo/Keystone/AP

Dylan was self-consciously writing a modern standard with “To Make You Feel My Love,” his romantic 1997 piano ballad. Billy Joel rushed to cover it before Dylan’s version even came out, on Time Out of Mind. Since then, it’s become one of his most-covered tunes, cut by Neil Diamond, Garth Brooks, Engelbert Humperdinck, even Boy George. But Adele made it her own, with the tenderly vulnerable version on her 2008 debut album, 19. The lyrics “summed up exactly what I was trying to say in my songs,” she said at the time. “It’s weird that my favorite song on my album was a cover, but I couldn’t not put it on there.” R.S.

19. The Isley Brothers, “Lay Lady Lay” (1971)

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

This sultry bedroom number was slightly out of character for Dylan, but it was custom-made for Ronald Isley, who would soon be acknowledged as a maestro of getting a ladies to lay. The Isleys tried on a bunch of different styles throughout the Seventies, and for their 1971 album, Givin’ It Back, they covered a series of white folk-rockers, discovering that sweet spot where hippie free love meets R&B seduction. And they stretch it out more than ten minutes, because these guys mean business. K.H.

18. Cher, “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” (1969)

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The hip audience had soured on Sonny & Cher’s brand of pop by the late Sixties, so in 1969 Cher went to Muscle Shoals in Alabama to introduce some funk and soul into her sound. She also selected some sharper material, including three Dylan songs that were, at the time, fresh and contemporary — all from his recently released Nashville Skyline. This is the most effective of the three, imbuing Dylan’s pledge of fidelity with sexy soul while retaining its country grounding. K.H.

17. Emma Swift, “Queen Jane Approximately” (2020)

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Mickey Bernal/Getty Images

The Australian singer-songwriter’s Dylan covers album  Blonde on the Tracks turned out to be healing for us in the pandemic — and Swift herself. “Sad, listless and desperate, I began singing Bob Dylan songs as a way to have something to wake up for,”  she said. Swift tackles Dylan classics ranging from “Simple Twist of Fate” to the recent “I Contain Multitudes,” but the opener “Queen Jane Approximately” best displays how she tells these songs from a female perspective. The instrumentation might be delicate, but she navigates through the lyrics with strength and compassion, almost as if she’s ending each line of “Won’t you come see me, Queen Jane” with a polite “please?”  A.M.

16. Bruce Springsteen, “Chimes of Freedom” (1988)

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Thomas Uhlemann/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

At the peak of his Eighties stardom, Springsteen signed on to the six-week Amnesty International Tour, accompanying the likes of Sting, Peter Gabriel, Youssou N’Dour, and Tracy Chapman to raise money and awareness for the human rights organization. You can hear him announce that on the introduction to his rendition of this Another Side of Bob Dylan number, from a four-song live EP recorded in Stockholm. As is Bruce’s wont, he expands the acoustic song to an anthem big enough to fill a sports stadium without sacrificing any of Dylan’s political yearning or poetic vision. K.H.

15. Them, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” (1966)

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Van Morrison and his Belfast garage-R&B band Them turned “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” into an Irish soul benediction without losing any of the original’s acerbic bite; Morrison delivered Dylan’s lyrics like he was experiencing them in a Blakean reverie. “I did something totally different with that song,” Morrison told Rolling Stone. “My version — I owned it. I didn’t really connect with Dylan as a songwriter. I connected with what he was doing with the songs.” Three decades later, Beck and the Dust Brothers sampled Them’s version beautifully on the Odelay standout “Jack-Ass.” J.D. 

14. Johnny Cash and June Carter, “It Ain’t Me Babe” (1965)

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Johnny Cash said he brought a portable record player on tour with him in the Sixties so he could listen to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan immediately before and after a show. Dylan admired the country star so much that, according to Johnny’s son John Carter Cash, when they finally met “Bob came in the hotel room, jumped up and down on the bed and said, ‘I met Johnny Cash!’ just like a little kid.” Here, with June’s harmonies softening up the chorus and a campfire harmonica a bit less wheezy than Dylan’s, Cash demonstrated how thin a line there was between country and folk — and scored a big hit single in the process. K.H. 

13. The Byrds, “My Back Pages” (1967)

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Ivan Keeman/Redferns/Getty Images

During the recording of Another Side of Bob Dylan, Dylan told writer Nat Hentoff that its songs would downplay protest in favor of personal: “There aren’t any finger-pointing songs … you know, pointing to all the things that are wrong. Me, I don’t want to write for people anymore – you know, be a spokesman.” That was especially true of “My Back Pages,” which implied he had grown weary of that “spokesman” role and wanted to move on in his work. With its melancholy harmonies and muted jangle, the Byrds’ rendition added a new level of wistfulness to the song – even if David Crosby, who was soon fired from the band, later complained to Rolling Stone, “It was a formula, it was a cop-out … It was, ‘Oh, let’s make “Tambourine Man” again.’ … It was a piece of shit, had all the commitment and life of a four-day-old mackerel.” No wonder the band sounds weary itself. D.B. 

12. Rod Stewart, “Mama You Been on My Mind” (1972)

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RB/Redferns/Getty Images

Rod the Mod was a self-proclaimed “Man of Constant Sorrow” — but he was also a man of many Dylan tunes. In his early “Maggie May” folkie prime, he could capture a scruffy sadness in these songs that sounded like nobody else. He sang “Mama, You Been on My Mind” on his 1972 album Never a Dull Moment, with wistful accordion, mandolin, stand-up bass, Ron Wood’s pedal steel. It’s one of the loneliest things Rod ever recorded — yet one of the most beautiful. It sounds like a song he might have sung for Maggie May later, wishing he never let her slip away. R.S.

11. The Staple Singers, “Masters of War” (1966)

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Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Within two years of releasing “Masters of War,” Dylan’s idols, the Staple Singers, were already covering the songwriter’s anti-war meditation as the United States escalated its involvement in Vietnam. The Staple Singers covered many of Dylan’s early material – “Blowin’ In the Wind,” “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” –but “Masters of War” is perhaps their finest Dylan-covering moment, with Pops Staples delivering a slow-building, tour-de-force vocal performance. J.B. 

10. The White Stripes, “One More Cup of Coffee” (1999)

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Paul Bergen/Redferns/Getty Images

Replace Scarlet Rivera’s violin from the original with distorted, bluesy guitar riffs and you get a signature White Stripes makeover. Jack White has covered various Dylan songs throughout his career — from “New Pony” with the Dead Weather to “Love Sick” with the Stripes — but he takes this Desire gypsy dirge to new heights, thanks to his tortured vocals and Meg’s dense drums. The cover appeared on their 1999 debut; five years later, White joined Dylan onstage in Detroit for “ Ball and Biscuit” — kicking off a friendship. After venturing down to the valley below, check out the Stripes’ other  Desire cover: “ Isis.” A.M. 

9. The 13th Floor Elevators, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” (1967)

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Guy Clark/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Roky Erickson and his band of drugstore cowboys rolled out of Austin, Texas in the mid-Sixties, pioneers in the brave new world of psychedelic rock. They blew minds from coast to coast with their massively influential version of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” the centerpiece of their 1967 classic Easter Everywhere. The Elevators took a totally new approach to the Dylan songbook — instead of reverent folksy imitation, focused on the lyrics, they just cranked up their amps and let the ghosts of electricity howl through their guitars. This doomy power-drone performance rewired how people heard and played Dylan’s music. It’s a fearsome sound — one of his most terrifying songs, in its most terrifying incarnation. R.S.

8. The Byrds, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (1968)

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Dylan had a lot of motivations for recording the Basement Tapes with the Band in 1967 and early 1968, but the primary one was to write songs that other artists could cover. One of the first groups to get their hands on a Basement Tapes song was the Byrds, who used it as the leadoff track on their pioneering 1968 country rock LP Sweetheart of the Rodeo. But Roger McGuinn misheard the lyric “Pick up your money, pack up your tent” as “Pack up your money, pick up your tent.” And when Dylan re-recorded the song for Greatest Hits Volume 2, he sang “Pack up your money, put up your tent, McGuinn/You ain’t goin’ nowhere” as a good-natured dig at his longtime friend. A.G.

7. Sam Cooke, “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1964)

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Ben Martin/Getty Images

Dylan’s frequently covered protest folk-song changed Cooke’s outlook on music—the soul great’s only frustration was that he wished that a Black artist had written it. Cooke introduced “Blowin’ in the Wind” to his live set upon hearing it, and eventually it spurred him to write his towering civil rights classic “A Change Is Gonna Come.” For a taste of the unique spin Cooke put on the song, you can hear an easy-swinging version on Sam Cooke at the Copa. K.H.

6. George Harrison, “If Not For You” (1970)

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GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty Images

To a man, the Beatles idolized Dylan, but it was the Quiet One who ended up getting to know him best. George and Bob formed one of the most iconic rock-star friendships, enduring from their Sixties days strumming together in Woodstock to the Traveling Wilburies. After Harrison’s death in 2001, Dylan did “Something” on his next tour as a tribute, sending it out “to my buddy George.” “If Not For You” was a highlight of George’s 1970 solo classic All Things Must Pass, just a few months after Dylan debuted it on New Morning. Even better , they also sang it as a stunning stripped-down duet, in rehearsals for the Concert for Bangla Desh. R.S.

5. Guns N’ Roses, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” (1991)

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Ross Marino Archive/MediaPunch/IPx/AP

GNR started performing Dylan’s classic of Seventies frontier fatalism in 1987, and even released a live version on the 12-inch of “Welcome to the Jungle.” But the five-and-a-half-minute arena rock epic we all know first emerged on the Days of Thunder soundtrack three years later, only to be finessed for inclusion on Lose Your Illusion II. Slash finds his way back to the blues as a horde of multi-tracked Axls wail, groan, and plead around one another. And no one is really sure what’s up with that free-associative answering machine message. K.H. 

4. Elvis Presley, “Tomorrow Is a Long Time” (1966)

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Liaison/Getty Images

When Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner asked Dylan to name his favorite cover of one of his songs in 1969, he didn’t go with obvious candidates by the likes of the Byrds, Jimi Hendrix or Joan Baez. He instead went with Elvis Presley’s relatively-obscure 1966 take on “Tomorrow Is a Long Time.” Dylan wrote the song in 1962 when his girlfriend, Suze Rotolo, was studying abroad in Italy and he yearned for her to come home. His version wouldn’t come out until 1971’s Greatest Hits Volume 2, but Odetta covered it in 1965 on her LP Odetta Sings Dylan, which captured the attention of the king. His bare-bones take radiates with the heartbreak that Dylan felt when he wrote the song. “That’s the one recording I treasure the most,” Dylan said. A.G.

3. The Byrds, “Mr. Tambourine Man” (1965)

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Bob Dylan’s enrapt encomium upon hearing the Byrds’ 12-string dream-jangle vision of his folk sound — “Wow, man, you can even dance to that!” — remains true to this day. “Mr. Tambourine” took folk-rock to the top of the charts, played a huge role in jumpstarting the L.A. rock scene, and, in Roger McGuinn’s dappled vocals, proved that singing like Bob Dylan might have unlikely commercial potential. When the Byrds first heard a demo of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” they weren’t sure they could use it (David Crosby, for one, thought it was too long). As McGuinn later recalled, “I had an idea of how to save ‘Mr. Tambourine Man.’ I’d been playing around with some Bach licks on the 12-string and thought, ‘What if I put an intro like this . . . and we change it to a Beatle beat?! It worked! We got a Number One hit and were allowed to record the rest of the album!” Template for reverent rock reimaginings of Dylan had been set. J.D.

2. Nina Simone “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” (1969)

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Though Dylan has a rep in some circles as a cranky fellow, he maintained acquaintances of mutual respect with many of his peers. He first met Simone on the New York folk circuit in the early-Sixties, and she came to cover his material regularly throughout her career. This Highway 61 Revisited song is one of three Dylan numbers she included on her 1969 LP To Love Somebody. Her piano gives it a soft, shuffling rhythm and her vocal is gentle and exploratory—where Dylan rambled across the countryside he sang about, Simone floats. K.H.

1. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “All Along the Watchtower” (1968)

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Bruce Fleming/AP

From the moment it arrived on John Wesley Harding, the cryptic “All Along the Watchtower” has been analyzed and picked apart. Is its conversation between a “joker” and “thief” (in which “businessmen, they drink they wine” and “the hour is getting late”) metaphorical or apocalyptic? Political or personal? But one thing nearly everyone agreed upon is that Hendrix’s gale-force version of the song, from Electric Ladyland, may be one of the few times Dylan was bested on one of his own tunes. Dylan’s original was taut and acoustic. But from the metallic shard of its opening chords to its howling wah-wah solo, Hendrix’s interpretation truly does sound like the end of the world. Unlike so many others who covered Dylan songs before and since, Hendrix didn’t approach his version with awestruck reverence. Instead, he dismantled and attacked it, adding a sinister quality to its lyrics; even his shrieking notes he elicits from his guitar sound like screaming doomsday voices. As Dylan himself reportedly said to Hendrix, “I don’t know if anyone has done my songs better.” D.B. 

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This post originally appeared on Rolling Stone and was published May 24, 2021. This article is republished here with permission.

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